Torture and Stick-Beating

General David Petraeus on torture:

Whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside….Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables. They don’t go away. The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility. Beyond that, frankly, we have found that the use of the interrogation methods in the Army Field Manual that was given the force of law by Congress, that that works.

I think that’s about right, though I would say that “the enemy” being able to make propaganda hay isn’t totally the main public relations issue here.

The issue is that foreigners in general don’t, for reasons that should be obvious, generally give the US government and its security forces the sort of benefit of the doubt that Americans are happy to offer. We are judged — and often judged skeptical — by what we actually do. So if we want professions of good-faith and humanitarian concern to be taken seriously, we have to deliver. The storyline “yes it’s true our bomb killed some innocent people yesterday, but taking the broad view we’re very solicitous of civilian life and we’re fundamentally the good guys and here to help” is one that may or may not be believed. Insofar as we act consistently like a law-abiding society that’s governed by humane values, then the story is more plausible. Insofar as we act like a brutal society with a double-standard for Muslim and/or brownish suspects that’s governed by Marc Thiessen’s sick values, then the story is less plausible.


To conservatives, America’s moral superiority is so self-evidence that it doesn’t need to be made real through moral conduct.